While Sen. Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last night, he was not the only presidential contender in town. Independent candidate Ralph Nader held a rally Wednesday at the University of Denver calling for an end to the corporate control over the presidential debates. When Obama selected Joe Biden to be his running mate, Nader dubbed Biden the "MasterCard Senator" because of his close ties to the credit card industry. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: While Senator Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last night, he was not the only presidential contender in town. Independent candidate Ralph Nader held a rally on Wednesday at the University of Denver, calling for an end to corporate control over the presidential debates. The longtime consumer advocate is making his third run for the White House.
Nader has been a vocal critic of the policies of both John McCain and Barack Obama. When Obama selected Joe Biden to be his running mate, Nader dubbed Biden the “MasterCard Senator” because of his close ties to the credit card industry. Biden was a key architect of the 2005 bankruptcy law which made it harder for consumers to file for bankruptcy protection. Nader has also criticized Biden for helping to create the modern drug war by pushing the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act.
Ralph Nader joins us here in Denver at Free Speech TV’s studios. Welcome to Democracy Now!
RALPH NADER: Thank you, Amy. Actually, it’s only three times, run for president, as our website votenader.org points out.
AMY GOODMAN: Why are you doing it this year? A lot of people got angry at you last time, even the time before, though last time was key.
RALPH NADER: It’s amazing how people can say that, when in the same breath they will criticize the Democrat and Republican parties for being pro-war parties, pro-corporate parties, pro-military-industrial complex parties.
You know, why are we doing this? We’re doing this to give voters a broader choice of agendas and to bring a younger generation in. At our rally last night, it was just magnificent to see young people in their early twenties get up on that stage and, with very articulate performances, show what’s coming.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, it was not only you as a presidential candidate there. Bob Barr was represented in a videotape, and Rosa Clemente, the Green vice-presidential candidate, along with Cynthia McKinney, who is the presidential candidate —-
RALPH NADER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Rosa Clemente also spoke. What was the point of your rally last night?
RALPH NADER: The point was, and why we did what almost nobody ever does at the presidential candidacy level, bringing on competitors, so to speak, third-party and independent candidates, is to try to break the grip of this corporation called the Commission on Presidential Debates that the two major parties created in 1987 and control. And they don’t want anyone else on the stage, and that means that there’s no way to get to tens of millions of people, unless you’re a multibillionaire like Perot, no way to get to tens of millions of people, no matter how many states we campaign in, no matter how many giant arenas we fill. It’s less than two percent of what we would reach if we were on just one debate. Now, we’re at six, seven, eight percent in the latest CNN polls -— seven percent in Colorado — with no mass mainstream television media.
AMY GOODMAN: This is the latest poll that came out this week?
RALPH NADER: Yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain again. And in what states?
RALPH NADER: In states like New Mexico, Colorado, Minnesota, we’re coming in at six, seven, eight percent. NBC national news, ABC national news, CBS national news — total blackout since February 24th. And we’re still doing that well. So we could turn it into a three-way race, if we were really on those three presidential debates, or if Google or Yahoo! or veterans’ groups, who all wanted to sponsor their own debates and deliver millions of viewers would get the cooperation of Obama and McCain.
It’s really interesting to see a difference here. McCain offered ten town meetings to Obama. Obama said no. Google wants a — let’s see, a September 18th debate in New Orleans. McCain said OK, Obama said no. A veterans’ group coalition out of Fort Hood, Texas, they wanted a debate. McCain said OK, Obama says no. Isn’t that amazing?
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the candidates that — particularly that spoke last night. Yesterday was an interesting scene in Denver. Thousands of people were in the streets protesting, led by soldiers who had returned from Iraq, Iraq Veterans Against the War. They — we’re going to play a clip of that protest later. It was mounting pressure through the day, the question of whether the riot police would actually teargas them. They were all lined up. Their helmets were on their face. Coverings were on. But ultimately, Obama’s people came out to talk with them, which is actually all they were asking for at that point.
Biden accepted the vice-presidential nomination. You spoke in a different part of Denver. Joseph Biden — what do you think of him as the vice-presidential candidate for Barack Obama?
RALPH NADER: Well, he’s going to be, probably, an effective attack dog against the Republicans. But what we call him is “Senator Plastic,” because he is the champion of the credit card industry. MBNA is in Delaware. It’s a huge credit card company. It’s given more than $200,000 to Joe Biden over his career. And he championed, almost shamelessly, the anti-consumer bankruptcy law that his fellow colleague, Senator Chris Dodd, who’s the chair of the Senate Banking Committee, called, quote, "the worst bill ever," end-quote.
And what it did, unlike corporate bankruptcy, it really squeezed people who had to go into bankruptcy because of medical bills or because they lost their job, as Professor Elizabeth Warren at Harvard Law School pointed out. Those are the two main reasons for bankruptcy. It squeezed them horribly. And this paved the way for predatory lenders to shift the burden on these hapless borrowers in the subprime home mortgage crisis, as they call it. He’s got a lot to answer for. He tries to say he moderated the bill, and it couldn’t have been worse.
But he’s very corporate. He comes from Delaware, which is in — has always been in a race to the bottom to weaken corporate charter laws, which is why so many of the giant corporations are strangely chartered in Delaware over the years, like the big New York banks or General Motors. We want to use that to raise the whole issue of what Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft were proposing a hundred years ago, which is federal chartering of giant corporations. Take it away from the states like Delaware, rewrite the compact between the people and these artificial entities, and hopefully take away some of the constitutional rights to lobby and to engage in politics of these artificial entities, because they’re not human beings, they don’t vote, and they shouldn’t have these constitutional rights.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting. Senator Joe Biden himself is one of the least wealthy members of the Senate.
RALPH NADER: Yes. That’s a commendable impression that he’s going to give. You know, he’s just a working fellow from Scranton, Pennsylvania, takes the train from Wilmington back and forth. And that is commendable. But on the other hand, look who he’s standing up for: these giant corporations and the shameless drug war act, with just, you know, mandatory minimum sentences that have filled the jails, so we now have more prisoners in our jails, nonviolent drug offenders, than — per capita than anybody, any country in the world, including China. I mean, we don’t send nicotine addicts or alcoholics to jail. Why are we sending people who have drug addictions to jail?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you are calling on some people to be jailed, but we’re going to find out just who those people are —-
RALPH NADER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —- in a minute. We’re talking to Ralph Nader. He’s an independent presidential candidate, just held a super rally last night for a number of independent presidential candidates. He’s here in Denver and then is headed to St. Paul for a similar rally next week in the midst of the Republican National Convention. We’re also going to bring you a piece about the protests that built through yesterday on the streets of Denver. Stay with us.
Our guest is independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader. He has run for president three times. Maybe I confused you with Eugene V. Debs. He ran five times?
RALPH NADER: He ran five times, with the statement: better to vote for someone you believe in and lose than to vote for someone you don’t believe in and win who will certainly betray you. That’s a very, very important thing for voters to consider when they decide what they’re going to —-
AMY GOODMAN: He was also disappointed with the American people, in terms of activism.
RALPH NADER: Yeah. Yeah, a remarkable statement. A reporter asked him, “What’s your biggest regret?” at the end of his great career as a labor leader. And Eugene Debs said, “My greatest regret is that, under our Constitution, the American people can have almost anything they want, but it just seems they don’t want much of anything at all.”
Fast-forward to 1945. We were the biggest power in the world after World War II. Western Europe was devastated, but those people pushed and got, by law, universal healthcare, decent pensions, living wage, decent public transit, paid vacation, paid maternity leave, paid family sick leave, university free education. They got it, by law.
Sixty-three years later, these two parties, the Republican and Democratic parties, still have not given the American people what people in western Europe got decades ago. So we’re trying to raise the expectation level, Amy, of the American people. If they become cynical and withdraw, which is what cynicism does, then they’re going to lose their country. These giant corporations that hijacked our government are tearing the heart and soul out of America.
AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Kucinich addressed the Democratic convention. In the news we have from The Hill newspaper -— he gave a fiery speech.
RALPH NADER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: He criticized war profiteering, the oil giants, Wall Street, drug companies and, most of all, the Bush administration, which he said invaded Iraq for oil. But Obama staffers redacted one line suggesting Republicans should be jailed. The line read, quote, "They’re asking for another four years. In a just world, they’d get ten to twenty."
RALPH NADER: Yeah. I mean, that’s the tragedy of Dennis Kucinich. Now, he’s done by February or March. The primaries are over. He will not at all support the Nader-Gonzalez campaign. I mean, he doesn’t have to endorse us. We can’t even get his mailing list. And I say, “Dennis, we’re the only people who are going to take your proposals to November.”
Imagine the Democrats — in 2004, they were prohibited from criticizing Bush at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, and now, in 2008, they don’t want to raise the issue of criminal recidivism in the White House, the most impeachable presidency and vice presidency in our history — torture, incarcerating people without charges, the criminal war of aggression in Iraq, spying on millions of Americans without judicial approval. That’s a five-year jail term. That’s a first-class felony. So the Democrats are really abandoning the rule of law, abandoning the Constitution and its impeachment provisions. And they ought to be taken into account. But, you know, Dennis got virtually — he got nothing in the platform. They won’t give him a comma in the Democratic national platform.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to in the Democratic platform? What isn’t there? What is there?
RALPH NADER: They ignore the need for a massive crackdown on corporate crime, fraud and abuse, which even the mainstream media, Wall Street Journal and others, are reporting. They’re allowing a bloated military budget to devour the federal budget away from public works and the necessities of the American people. We have no more Soviet Union. They don’t even mention consumer protection in any way. You can’t get them to talk about shifting the tax burden to security speculation and things we like the least or dislike the most. You can’t get them to do anything, other than homilies and hope and change and all that nonsense, when the central issue of this campaign has got to be the corporate domination of our political economy and our government.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what you would do if you became president? What are the first actions that you would take?
RALPH NADER: Well, I call them the first-stage improvements. Full Medicare for all — I mean, sixty-some years after Harry Truman proposed it, it’s about time. It would save a lot of lives, by the way. A living wage — you know, they don’t even talk about living wage. If the minimum wage in 1968 was adjusted for inflation, the way members of Congress do their salaries, it would be $10 an hour. Do you know what the federal minimum wage is? It just rose to this level of $6.55 in July, last month. It’s disgraceful. One out of every three — one out of every three full-time American workers is making Wal-Mart wages. You can’t provide for the necessities, the barest necessities of your family, that way.
This used to be the party of the working people, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It’s turning into a toady of giant business. They can’t ever even use the words “corporate crime” or “corporate welfare” or the taxpayers bailing out crooks routinely on Wall Street and other places around the country. This is a bankrupt party. And Dennis Kucinich, in effect, has been told, “Well, you can have your little speech, Dennis, but you’re going to jump in line and salute.”
AMY GOODMAN: When you’re talking about matters of life and death, John McCain says the US could be in Iraq for a hundred years.
RALPH NADER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Barack Obama says he wants to pull out a number of the troops within the first sixteen months.
RALPH NADER: Yeah. Well, his military adviser said that means they’ll keep 50,000 or more soldiers, US soldiers, in Iraq in the military bases. We have twenty-two military bases in Iraq, and three of them are like the Battleship Galactica.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you say has to happen right away on that issue? What could you do?
RALPH NADER: Six months, negotiate withdrawal, all military and corporate forces from Iraq, continued humanitarian aid, UN-sponsored elections, and negotiating with the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, what they did in the 1950s, a certain amount of autonomy within the unified Iraq that they all want.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to tell our viewers and listeners that in the other hour of Democracy Now! — we’ve expanded to two hours, and if you don’t get to see or hear that other hour, you can go to our website at democracynow.org — in that other hour, we played a piece by Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill, author of the bestselling book Blackwater. He went on the floor and saw Henry Waxman, the powerful House chair, House Congress member. And Waxman has called on Obama, if he becomes president, to end military contracts with Blackwater.
RALPH NADER: And Obama has indicated that he’s simply not going to do that. You know what the dilemma for Obama is? He’s inheriting war criminals: Bush and Cheney. In all kinds of ways, they’ve been committing daily war crimes. At what point does he become a war criminal? If he does not issue executive orders and say no to what the regime has been doing and torture and incarceration and wiretapping and a criminal war, an unconstitutional war in Iraq, that’s — he’s got to think about that, his advisers have got to think about that, because he is going to inherit and pursue and be culpable for these war crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Ralph Nader, for joining us. Ralph Nader, independent presidential candidate, longtime consumer advocate and corporate critic, he is running for president for the third time on the Independent ticket. Last question: why not the Green Party ticket? Why didn’t you go for the nomination? Cynthia McKinney won that nomination.
RALPH NADER: Because it’s just too disorganized. They can’t — they can’t put it together. They bicker a lot, and they drive out a lot of good Greens who want to focus on agendas. I wish them well. I wish Cynthia McKinney well. I wish people would continue to support us and send contributions to votenader.org. But the liberal, progressive press, if they do not support those of us who are taking their agenda inside the presidential election arena — a propos my letter to Jim Hightower, Bill Greider and Bob Kuttner — they’re going nowhere. They’re just whistling in the dark. And most of them, with the exception of John Nichols, have been ignoring or actually undermining the Nader-Gonzalez campaign. So we’re going to generate this kind of debate within what I like to call the liberal intelligentsia.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader.